August is fast approaching. More and more students are sending me messages or posting comments on this blog to ask for tips about how they should go prepare for the Korean Government Scholarship Program. All I could say is that it is going to be a long journey which needs more than just your skills and brain. This experience asks for a passionate heart and an open mind about pursuing studies in a foreign land – or, should I say, earning a degree here in South Korea.
My KGSP experience is about to end and there is just a lot to talk about it. I may or may not have share most of it in this blog but allow me to give you a few things you should expect once you start the program. Disclaimer – this may vary accordingly.
1. The Wolfpack Divides
It is exciting to meet new people on the first few days before the orientation.You go grocery shopping together (yes! like 30 of you!), flock the noraebang, or fill a whole bus when you’ve decided to check the neighboring park. It is really fun yet exhausting to lead/travel in big groups; however, when the language class starts, the group divides.
The group is often according to your Korean language level – like beginner/intermediate/advanced level. During my time, there were a lot of beginners in Korean and there were only 3~5 people in the Intermediate. It was a bit sad at first because it felt like we were an outcast, but later on, you’ll find your true friends beyond the language level or nationality.
2. “Racism” is present in Korea
Sadly, you will see posts about hiring native English speakers only, big black men for bouncer, and other discriminatory statements from Koreans. You may also get a stare from old Koreans if your physical appearance is quite distinct. You may be bumped by someone without receiving a sorry. You may get scolded in a bus while chatting with your friend in your own language…but these are just a few comments and not a generalization to Koreans. Koreans are very friendly people. They may be shy at first because they are scared to get embarrassed with their lack in the English language, but once you open up to them and not shame them, then they may just turn as one of your closest friends here!
3. When you’re admitted to graduate school, you’ll likely have this two kind of professors.
a. Professor who urge you to speak English – so that he could practice the language, as well.
b. Professor who urge you to speak Korean – because he doesn’t want to exert effort in understanding English.
4. When you’re admitted to grad school, you’ll likely have this two kind of seniors (선배)
a. A very supportive senior who, even if he/she graduated already, will checks up on you and helps you with almost everything (school assignments, job application, random gala, etc).
b. A user-friendly senior. This senior befriends you and will offer you a part-time job which is overtly underpaid. beware.
5. You are NOT ALONE
Although, the wolf pack may have divided, scattered in various regions in Korea – your language batch mates are the people you can depend on even after the language course. They won’t leave you despite the long time you guys may not have seen each other.
This rings true to my batch – we call ourselves, Jeonju Superstars 2012. There are frequent birthday parties – most of which happens in Seoul tho – but there are more important times where they were willing to give a hand. They were very supportive during my typhoon Haiyan fund drive and we also helped each other provide funds for our friend whose family was affected by the Nepal Earthquake.
So, don’t feel lonely during your KGSP program. Apart from your language batch mates, you will meet more and more people.Try asking around if their is an association for students from your country – that is one good step away from loneliness too!
Finally, just be yourself. Don’t pretend to be someone else. Do not force yourself in embracing Korean culture (it will stress you out and may complicate your study here). Learn to let go but do not bad-mouth this country. Learn to be thankful for the experience. Learn to enjoy 🙂